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Parliamentary Constituencies

Volume 521: debated on Tuesday 18 January 2011

2. When he expects his proposals for fewer and more equally sized constituencies to be implemented. (33929)

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill currently being considered, if somewhat stalled by the Labour party in another place, requires the boundary commissions to submit their reports before 1 October 2013. The Secretary of State or the Lord President is required to lay before Parliament an Order in Council to bring the commissions’ recommendations into effect.

The majority of this House will certainly condemn the delays not only in this Chamber but in the other place. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that demonstrates the Opposition’s contempt for equal-sized constituencies and equal votes for people throughout the country?

As I said earlier, the leader of the Labour party said this very weekend that he believed in new politics and political reform, yet he cannot control members of his own party in the House of Lords. Either he did not mean what he said at the weekend, or he is too weak to lead his own party. Either way, the Labour party cannot be relied upon to deliver political reform.

Many reform-minded Members of this House are getting fed up with the right hon. Gentleman’s attitude to electoral reform. He has broken so many promises in the coalition agreement, so why does he not separate the date of the referendum on the alternative vote from the gerrymandering that his Government are putting through?

We want to hold the referendum as soon as possible. We think that it is right to hold it when people are going to the ballot box anyway. That will save the taxpayer £30 million. We think that that is the right way to proceed. We on the Government Benches do not agree on the issue of AV, but at least we agree that the British people should have their say—something that the Labour party is now trying to block.

My constituency is one of the smallest English seats. If I adhered to the principle of naked self-interest, I would be supporting the status quo. Is it not right that we have equal-sized constituencies—equality for all voters so that each vote has equal value?

Of course it is. It has been a principle for political and democratic reformers of all parties for generations that all votes should be valued in the same way. It simply cannot be right, for instance, that right now Islington North has an electorate of just over 66,000, and yet 10 miles away in East Ham the figure is 87,000. Voters in a constituency just 10 miles away have less value attached to their votes than those up the road. That is wrong. That is what we are seeking to remedy. It is a simple principle: all votes should be worthy of the same value wherever they are found in the country.

I know that the Deputy Prime Minister gets in a terrible lather whenever anybody has the effrontery to contradict him, but may I suggest to him that he could perfectly easily have his referendum on the day that he wants it by splitting the Bill? It is perfectly straightforward. He said that the main reason for cutting the number of MPs is to save money. How does he reconcile that with the fact that it is costing £12.3 million extra every year for the 117 extra peers he has appointed, that it is costing £11.2 million extra for bringing the boundary review forward, and that he is to double the cost of the boundary commissions by making them every five years rather than every eight?

Cutting the number of MPs will save about £12 million every year, and holding the referendum on the same day as other elections saves us about £30 million. I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman wants to incur greater costs for the taxpayer—

It is the choice of the coalition Government to say that we want to reform politics not in a piecemeal fashion, but in a meaningful way. To introduce both the right for people to have a say over the electoral system and to ensure that constituencies are of roughly the same size seems a perfectly sensible way to proceed. That is what we will do, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should be whipping up the dinosaurs in the Labour party in the other place to stop us from doing so.